You, and the rest of mankind, are quite sure what is possible and what is impossible.
In the daylight.
When the night descends, the stride of your thoughts is not quite so confident.
Not so Roland.
He is much like an animal. I do not mean that as an insult.
He takes what comes at face value, not forcing it to fit into any preconceived notions Man teaches as Science.
He deals with what comes without protesting that it cannot be, only seeing what is and adapting.
Perhaps that is why we ghosts are drawn to him. In him is that quality that Stubbs expressed in MOBY DICK :
“I know not what all may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
Not that he is overly optimistic about the world around him. For being part Lakota Sioux, he still reads the Bible by his bedside. He often quotes :
“They sleep not, except that they have done mischief;
And their sleep is taken away unless they cause
Some to fall.
For they eat the bread of wickedness
And drink the wine of violence.”
That is Proverbs 4:16-17 for those of you interested in such things.
In life I was not.
I thought the love of God was like the light burning from the stars :
cold and distant.
Now, that I am a ghost …. but no.
There are secrets the dead may not share with the living.
But the secrets on how to write well … they I can share with you.
Oh, you are wondering who I am.
Don’t be embarrassed. In life I wondered the same thing.
I am Roger Zelazny.
I made somewhat of a splash in Science Fiction in the sixties, endured and evolved in the seventies and eighties. I went the way of all flesh mid-way through the nineties in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
And Roland mourned me as a distant older brother gone over the crest of the hill before him, leaving him cold and alone.
Oh, and I inspired him to take up the pen and follow my steps into weaving tales in the genre I call Science Fantasy.
That I sparked the idea in him to be a writer drew me to him.
It was his gentle, quiet, amused nature that has made me stay. He looks on all the awkwardness of life with a sly smile that says, “You expected water to run uphill?”
Another more important question :
What makes one tale live, vibrant and riveting, and another merely flat, lifeless words on paper?
Not that any of us have a sure idea, although Hemingway is glaring at me. But we had a close enough glimpse of the answer to make a living at what we loved to do :
What is the answer?
A joyous cry : “Come see what I found!”
If you can bring anew the childlike sense of wonder and awe to your readers that the poisons of living have drained from them, you will have a loyal following that will not quit.
What words will do that?
Certainly not the same sing-song repeat and rinse of someone else’s bestseller.
The words must tilt the reader’s expectations on its ear. Did you notice I said reader?
You are talking to only one at the campfire of their imagination and curiosity. If you think of your audience as readers, you will talk AT them not TO them.
The author/reader relationship is intimate : friend to friend. “Look at this, man!”
One friend sharing with another something fantastic and wondrous :
The meaning of life in the skating sparks of the sun along the uneven facets of a piece of rock candy …
or striking fire down the razored spirals of a unicorn’s tusk.
If you are drawn to write, you do not need to be told the basics. You already have absorbed them from the masters :
Stirring plots, memorable characters, and absorbing ideas.
You must tap the humanity of the situations, of the people struggling against the tide of events.
Remember this is the Microwave Culture.
Your prose must be lean and spare, yet sing with the poetry of mystery and suspense. How do you do that?
Mind your surroundings.
Nothing is ever wasted to a real writer. Circumstances suggest. Events coalesce. The story will begin to flow like a shadow along the floor of your unconscious.
Once you have seen their shapes, the stories will exist as ghosts for you until you have pinned them to the paper. Perhaps that is why there are so many ghosts of writers in the Shadowlands.
We made our living from ghosts, so reciprocity demands its due.
Sometimes you will have to post a Help Wanted Ad in your unconscious to apply for positions in the story and events that have called out to you.
Do not worry. Within the hour, your unconscious mind will have them lining up for you to consider.
Read your work aloud.
Hear the clumsy prose misstep that jars your ears? A sentence is too long? Make them two. A word unneeded? Remove it. Sand your prose as a sculptor would his carving.
Give your characters life by giving them a new take on what it means to be human, to be fully alive. Most people you pass on the streets are sleepwalking from long years of debt and unfulfilled passion.
Give them hope that there is more out there, that each corner could reveal the start of an adventure that might shorten their lives but awaken their souls.
Do that and you will become more than a writer. You will become an author.